Bush tours tornado zone
President George W Bush toured tornado-battered parts of the US South on Friday and pledged to help the region rebuild after the worst rampage of twisters in nearly a quarter-century killed 58 people.
Bush, seeking to avoid the mistakes of his administration's heavily criticised response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, flew to Tennessee for a look at some of the worst damage from tornadoes that whipped across half a dozen states this week.
"I'm here to listen ... to make sure that the federal response is compassionate and effective," Bush said after a helicopter tour of Macon County where he surveyed damaged homes, flattened trees and debris-strew fields.
Bush also came to comfort residents still reeling after dozens of tornadoes on Tuesday and Wednesday inflicted damage expected to total hundreds of millions of dollars.
Many were long-track tornadoes that hugged the ground for long periods and some packed hurricane-force winds. It was the deadliest US tornado outbreak since the mid-1980s.
The death toll was 33 people in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas, seven in Kentucky and five in Alabama. More than 150 people were injured.
Bush declared major disaster areas in parts of Tennessee and Arkansas, freeing up federal aid to help clean up and rebuild. More disaster declarations are expected.
Bush has taken pains in recent natural disasters to show Americans he is deeply engaged after his administration was accused of botching the initial response to Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf coast.
"I have no doubt in my mind this community will come back better than before," Bush said at a fire station in Lafayette during a briefing with local, state and federal officials.
Many in New Orleans, still not fully recovered from Katrina, have accused the federal government of neglecting their plight.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized along with Bush for the chaos following Katrina, has worked to showcase its revamped disaster response capabilities.
"We've learned a lot of lessons from that time," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Tennessee. "We have improved our procedures in terms of working with state and local authorities."
Bush's motorcade drove through a neighborhood where houses had been torn apart, utility poles snapped and trees ripped up by the force of the winds.
He stopped to console a family of four as they dug through the debris of their apartment building's garage and retrieved trophies, stuffed toys and other memorabilia.
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